Monday 29 April 2013

Forum: 'Nigeria Rising: Journey to the Venice Biennale'

Nigeria may have started preparation for the 2014 Venice Biennale, even though the 2013 edition, which opens in June and ends September is holding without the country’s pavilion.

Courtesy of a private initiative, Temple Productions Ltd with the support of the National Gallery of Art (NGA), Abuja and assistance of British Council, Lagos stakeholders gathered recently in Lagos and discussed possible challenges ahead.

Actress and art promoter, Ego Boyo of Temple Productions presented a background into her idea of Nigeria Rising: Journey to the Venice Biennale.
President of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Oliver Enwonwu, speaking during the meeting while Ego Boyo and visiting Director of National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Doreen Sibanda (left) listens

Excerpts from Boyo’s presentation;
The Biennale is the worlds largest and oldest art exhibition. It is a cultural event held every 2 years in the city  of Venice. In its 118 year history La Biennale has welcomed over 90 countries to exhibit and visitors from all over the globe, with the 201 1 edition seeing visitors numbering 375,000. The area utilised by the Biennale is the Guardini and the old ship yards the arsenale and this Is made up of National pavilions which become the repository of a Nations Art for the duration of the exhibition. This area is spread over 35,000 sq metres and also extends to other suburbs in the city.

The exhibition runs for 150 days, June to November and from inception it has become a truly international exhibition with elements which include the national pavilions, unofficial pavilions and other fringe exhibitions. In addition, later in the same year, the Venice Film is held in september and an architectural exhibition and music festival.
Nigerian Art. Contemporary and creative
 Art from the geographical area today known as Nigeria, includes the incredibly sophisticated Terracotta of the Nok culture dating back to approx 500BC, which influenced the Benin and Yoruba masks of 12th century, the Igbo ukwu sculptures of the 9th century all of which are accepted as early indications of our artistic enterprise.

This early manifestation of African Art is believed to have contributed as well as much of African Art, in having great influence on the work of some of  the greatest  western artists of the 20th century.

Quote from Chika Okeke " contemporary western scholars and artists generally acknowledge that one of the sparks for European art's paradigmatic change in direction in the 20th c occurred as western artists encountered African and oceanic ethnographic objects and recognised the possibilities they offered for formal shifts in European painting and sculpture."

That century also saw not only the resurgence but also the evolution of Nigerian Art, especially in the post colonial era, with the work of post colonial artists depicting definitive ideas of our culture against the backdrop of the political and cultural change the country and the continent was witnessing at that time.

From then to now we have seen an explosion of creative expression of creativity not only in Nigeria but from all over Africa, via a motley of diverse medium of paint, wood, metal, waste, paper, vegetation, fabric, plastic, beads, etc

Today a relatively small but growing number of mainly academics, gallery owners, museums and art collectors who had kept in touch with the development and resurgence of Art on the continent buy, exhibit and keep the works of Nigerian artists, especially the older well know. Many times, African Art is lumped together with no clear differentiation of the diverse and unique cultures and style that make up the continent and the varied expressions which is inherent in the Art we produce.

In the last 20 years, there has been an attempt by historians from various countries on the continent to document the art from their individual countries, and this has come at a time when Art emanating from african countries is attracting its own follower ship, with more exhibitions inside and outside the continent. all this with a view to ensure a proper representation of the various forms of modern African art.
The Director, Special Duties, NGA, Abuja Mrs Biola Awotedu (left) shortly after presenting catalogues of Art Expo Nigeria and other documentation on Nigerian art to Kareina Schwarz of the British Council during the stakeholders meeting on Nigeria Rising: Journey to the Venice Biennale, Lagos. 

Why the biennale in Venice?     
On  holiday in venice in 2008, i had a chance meeting with a gallery owner Adriano Berengo, who had recently seen an exhibition of African art at the Biennale of 2007 in which Nigeria art was featured. He was also familiar with Nigeria from his earlier travels as a sailor to the country. In conversation, he emphasised the need for Nigeria to exhibit at the Biennale and showcase its rich and diverse artistic culture. I fully agreed with him and as our subsequent conversations followed and my interest was peaked, I began to research the possibility of such an exhibition which would then include a possible appearance of Nigerian Film and eventually Architecture. My focus however stayed on Art as a medium I felt the country had "conquered" and would be able to participate at international levels without any problems of quality control.

I focused on the possibility of Nigeria participating in the Art exhibition of the Biennale of 2009, but soon realised how unprepared I was for the intricate planning, cost and commitment that was required for a first time participation.

This attempt was further challenged by the fact that a country's participation in the Biennale is usually at the behest and sponsorship of the nation state, which was not forthcoming at the time. I then adopted the strategy of taking Nigeria to the Biennale through a collaborative effort of the private sector and the state at first instance, and through a successful outing, obtain more state participation and commitments for future outings.

This was done and with the necessary institutional and governmental support in hand by way of commitments from  the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orieentation as well as the NGA and the great support from The British council, Lagos who gave invaluable advice. this culminated in the idea to launch this forum as a way of gaining much needed information, advice and insight from fellow Africans who had successfully exhibited at a previous Biennale and our partner The British council and also a way of getting the buy in of stakeholders.

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